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CITES - Your Questions Answered

image of sea cucumber by Andrew Harrison
Project AWARE News

In 2019, Sri Lanka will host the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES CoP18) - a World Wildlife Conference expected to be the largest global gathering of people focused on international wildlife trade since CITES came into force in 1975.

CITES CoP18, May 23 to June 3, presents opportunities to ensure significant progress for highly traded marine species: two species of mako shark, guitarfish, wedgefish, and sea cucumbers.

But what is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, how does it work, and why is it important for sharks and rays? Project AWARE answers your questions.

What is CITES?

CITES is considered as one of the world's most powerful tools for biodiversity conservation through the regulation of international trade in wild fauna and flora.

This intergovernmental trade agreement provides a framework for cooperation and collaboration among nations to prevent decline in wild populations of animals and plants. A country that has agreed to implement the Convention is called a Party to CITES.

Currently, there are 183 Parties (182 countries and the European Union) collaborating to ensure that international trade in wild species does not threaten their survival. The Parties meet every two to three years at a Conference of the Parties (CoP).

How does CITES work?

Species covered by CITES are listed under three appendices, depending on the level of protection they require and their conservation status. A set of biological and trade criteria helps determine under which appendix a species should be listed. When a species is listed on Appendix I, trade is prohibited and should be authorized only for non-commercial purposes (such as for scientific research). International trade in Appendix II listed species may be authorized through a system of export permits and certificates. This system seeks to ensure that this trade is sustainable, legal and traceable. Appendix III contains species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling the trade. It facilitates international cooperation in conservation and trade monitoring.

Why is CITES important for sharks and rays?

International trade in shark and ray species, too often, drives overfishing, which - together with finning and bycatch - drives depletion. Project AWARE uses the power of CITES to help protect threatened shark and ray species - sought for fins, wings, gill plates, meat, oil, teeth and cartilage – from the devastating effects of unregulated, international trade. A powerful international agreement like CITES can reduce the pressure on commercially valuable shark and ray populations.

During CITES CoP17, CITES Parties reviewed proposals to amend the CITES Appendices including those to control trade in thirteen species of sharks and rays - nine species of devil rays, three species of thresher sharks and the silky shark. In close collaboration with partner NGOs, including Shark Advocates International and the Shark Trust, Project AWARE engaged with relevant CITES Member Parties from leading supporting countries and from select undecided countries to achieve the two-thirds majority support needed for the proposed Appendix II shark and ray listing. We brought your voice – the global voice of the dive community – to this international forum to help bring a positive outcome for sharks and rays this September.

Your support puts us in a unique position to unite and rally shark advocates like you around CITES CoP18. We did it in 2013 for CITES CoP16 and again in 2017 for CITES CoP17 with great success! Let’s keep the momentum going. Demonstrate your support for the marine species proposals up for consideration at CITES CoP18. Now is the time, once again, to show decision-makers that the dive community is serious about safeguarding vulnerable marine species from unsustainable, unmanaged and unregulated international trade.

Your action today is essential to ensure international trade does not threaten marine species survival. Support Project AWARE's conservation work.

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